The Incredible Shrinking Football Field

Nick LiljaCorrespondent INovember 2, 2008

In football, every inch matters.

Coaches know it, players know it, fans know it. Ever watched a center move the football up a few centimeters before the snap? Okay, maybe you've never noticed, but I bet you have. Ever watched a running back dig deep and battle two linebackers for an extra few blades of grass? I guarantee it.

Between the lines and between the whistles, everything is under the microscope. Every inch looks bigger. Every foot seems like a mile.

Outside the stadium, an inch is an inch. Go ahead, find a tape measure. Grab any ruler. They’ll match. An inch on a desk is as big as an inch on the floor. No change.

On the football field, however, an inch may as well be a mile when a wide receiver is stretching to keep two feet down. An inch could be a parsec on the goal line. Ever try to cross a parsec in one shot? Heck, even with four tries?

Architects, though, may have missed that memo. They were too busy with significant figures. Athletic directors may have stopped paying attention. They’re trying to manage millions of dollars.

Two instances this past weekend could cost a few people a lot of money. Two instances of players ending up out of bounds on a routine play ended up with one boy in tears and a player on a stretcher. Perhaps even ending his career.

Inches mean a lot to those two.

Patrick Edwards, a Houston wide receiver, ended up with a compound leg fracture after a routine “streak” pattern ran him out of the back of the end zone and into a cart parked no more than five yards away from the field of play.

Play over. Season over. Career over, perhaps.

He needed a rod inserted into his lower right leg during surgery, Houston associate athletic director Chris Burkhalter told the Associated Press. Edwards, a redshirt freshman, was the team's leading receiver with 634 yards on 46 catches.

The carts were a part of the band's halftime performance and were left on the sidelines. Bob Marcum told the AP, “The carts, used by Marshall's band, will be relocated at future games.”

Good. Now figure out who was responsible—and fire them. There is no room for ignorance on a football field. There is barely any room in general anymore.

In the Cincinnati game, a receiver attempting to make a diving grab in the end zone ended up in the stands and mowed over a few crowd members, including a young boy. The player attempted to console the boy before returning to the huddle, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

ESPN's Erin Andrews interviewed the kid and he didn’t look like a deer in the headlights—but, then again, the truck had already hit him. The boy was shaken up a bit, but it could have been worse.

Both cases are examples of the epidemic of shrinking sidelines.

Call the two plays “freak accidents” but, in light of the past few games, the NCAA should take a close look at football stadiums around the country and investigate different ways to keep the players safe outside the lines and the fans safe in the stands.

It seems every year the playing field is getting smaller. Sure, the field is still 160 feet wide and 360 feet long, but the space available to players isn’t the same. Just look at University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium. The stands come so close to the field of play the walls are padded for the players' safety.

I’ve walked the sidelines of Autzen during a game—you get to know your neighbor.

Add to that more live media coverage and, as FSN’s Todd Mansfield would say, “all of the sudden,” players have less room than a real plot in an episode of Family Guy.

Meanwhile, they need every inch.